Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Where’s The Beef?

Where’s The Beef?

 Well, as we increasingly understand how environmentally damaging producing beef is, quite aside from lots of other issues, the proper issue should probably be, “nowhere.”  But back in the early 1980s a fast food outlet, Wendy’s (I originally said Arby’s) ran an ad with this line that indicated that the beef was at their outlet while their competitors just did not have the real beef, what all potential customers really wanted.  Wendy’s has never been all super successful although somewhat so, but many considered this to be an effective ad that appealed to lots of people.

So during the campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 when “New Democrat” Gary Hart took the lead in polls with his appeal to high tech and a certain sleek cool, his chief rival Walter Mondale threw this ad line at him regarding what he considered to be the superficial nature of Hart’s positions and appeal, “Where’s the beef?”  It was viewed as an appeal to working-class Dems and labor unions not likely to gain from the high tech oriented policies pushed by Hart. His remark made a splash and seems to have slowed Hart’s momentum and helped Mondale’s campaign, who would eventually get the nomination, although what finally did Hart in for sure was a sex scandal that erupted around him.  In any case, while I have seen some sneer now upon his death at Mondale’s use of this ad line, it may well have symbolized that Mondale did have a depth Hart did not.  Of course, many dismiss Mondale because he went down to massive defeat in the election against Reagan, taking only DC and his home stare of Minnesota.  But in that year following the highest rate of GDP growth we have seen since in the US no Dem was going to defeat Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign.  Mondale ran a noble but hopeless campaign.

Windsor, VA

Recently, in Windsor, Virginia, United States of America, a local police officer, Police Officer Gutierrez, pulled over Army Second Lieutenant Nazario; ostensibly for the lack of displayed license plate. As it was to turn out, a temporary plate was on display in the vehicle’s rear window. When Lt. Nazario slowly proceeded to a well lighted area in front of a convenience store, pulled over, and stopped, Police Officer Gutierrez, and a second, back up, officer approached the Lt.’s vehicle with guns drawn and pointed at Lt. Nazario while giving somewhat conflicting commands. Lt. Nazario is heard to say that he is afraid to get out of the car.

Was it reasonable force for the two police officers to draw to their weapons for a traffic stop after it was evident that there was no reason to make the stop in the first place? In the video, Police Officer Gutierrez is heard to say, “You received an order, obey it.” Do police have a god-given right to be obeyed? What is so suspicious about an army officer in fatigues near Hampton Roads, VA, (an area as aswarm with military installations and personnel as any in the world)? Why did the police officers demand that Lt. Nazario get out of his vehicle? Why not start with conversation? What right did the officers have to demand that the Second Lt. Nazario lie face down on the pavement? What compelled them to do so? Shouldn’t the police be required to produce proof of suspicious behavior before taking such drastic measures?

The politics of vaccine-stretching

When the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were first approved, it was clear that they were highly effective at preventing covid and that they would be in short supply for months.  The clinical trial data also suggested that, at least in the short-run, one dose of the vaccines would provide almost as much protection against covid as the two-dose protocol that was tested and approved by the FDA. 

This led a number of economists and public health professionals to argue that we could gain an edge in the fight against covid – and likely save tens of thousands of lives – by prioritizing first doses and delaying second doses (“first doses first”).  We could also stretch existing supplies by giving people half-doses, and by giving one dose to people who have recovered from covid and have some degree of natural immunity to reinfection, or simply by delaying their vaccination until more vulnerable people have been protected.

Most of the debate over vaccine stretching policies has been technocratic.  Proponents argue that first-doses-first and other vaccine stretching policies will save lives, and opponents point to various risks.  In my view the technocratic case for first-doses-first and other vaccine stretching policies is strong, but the politics are difficult.  Unfortunately, proponents of these policies have failed to think creatively about how to overcome political obstacles to vaccine stretching.  So let’s think about the political challenges and ask how the Biden administration might have been persuaded to try using first-doses-first, half-doses, and similar policies

The politics of first doses first are challenging

SCOTUS In the Shadows and Minority American Justice

SCOTUS Is Making New Law in the Shadows

April 15th, New York Times “Friday night’s injunction was at the 20th time since the court’s term began last October the justices have issued a shadow docket ruling altering the status quo.

Which brings to question, the more substantive the work the justices carry out through such unusual, unsigned, and unexplained orders; the more a “shadow docket” raises concerns about the court’s decision making transparency.

It leaves to questioning the underlying legitimacy of the high court decisions.

Recent years have seen a significant uptick in the volume of “shadow docket” rulings that are resolving matters beyond a singular issue and the issuing of orders changing the effect of lower-court rulings while they are appealed.

The most recent the Robert’s Court has taken up is California’s Covid-based restrictions on in-home gatherings to members of no more than three different households. The plaintiffs, who regularly hold Bible studies and prayer meetings in their homes, challenged the restrictions on the ground that they interfered with their right to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The Robert’s Court in what one scholar called the SCOTUS “most important free exercise decision since 1990,” the justices used the shadow docket to expand religious liberty.

The Trump administration sought emergency relief pending appeal 41 times in four years. Contrast this to the Bush and Obama administrations seeking such relief eight times in 16 years. The justices largely acquiesced to the Trump applications, granting 28 in full or in part.

African Americans, the Poor in Court and Sentencing Reform

Numbers

The interviewee says that blacks are disproportionately imprisoned in the United States; notes that though blacks only make up 13% of the general population, they make up 40% of the prison population. While it is quite likely that blacks are disproportionately imprisoned, it is what the interviewee didn’t say that begs asking. Why is it that blacks are being disproportionately imprisoned? For the answer to that, first, let’s take a look at some U.S. Department of Justice data on arrests:

Selected from the above linked table: Estimated number of arrests by offense and race, 2019, All ages:

All offenses blacks more than 25% of total

Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter blacks more than 50% of totalotal….

Robbery blacks more than 50% of total

….

Aggravated assault blacks more than 33% of total

….

These Justice Department figures tell us that blacks are in fact committing a disproportionate percentage of all crimes being committed. What else do we know in our search for the why?

It is known, or at least believed to be known: That, by far, most black citizens are law abiding. That upper and middle income blacks are exceptionally law abiding. That in modern day populations, males are far more likely to commit crimes than females. That almost all crimes by black Americans are committed by young black males. That nearly half of black Americans live in areas of concentrated poverty. That almost all of the crime committed by black Americans is committed by young black males between the ages of 12 and 34 years of age who live in areas of concentrated poverty (most of their victims live in these same areas).

It would help to know: What percentage of those black Americans who live in areas of concentrated poverty are males between the ages of 12 and 34. What percentage of this group commit criminal acts.

If we estimate 12 to 34 year old black males constitute 12% of the black population in areas of concentrated poverty, and that one-half of them are committing criminal acts; we aren’t looking at 13% of the population committing a disproportionate of all crimes committed. We are looking at (0.5 x 0.12 x 0.13 x 100 ~ 0.9%) less than 1%, of the overall population committing an extremely disproportionate per cent of all crimes committed. More specifically, we are talking about young black males in poor urban black communities committing an extremely disproportionate per cent of all crimes.

Why is it that 12 to 34 year old black males who live in urban areas of concentrated poverty are committing crimes at such a disproportionately high rate? Why is the cause we seek. Living in poor urban areas of concentrated poverty is the where. Why do young black males living in poor urban areas of concentrated poverty more like to commit criminal acts? It is known, or thought to be known, that young males are more likely to commit crimes. There appears to be little, if any evidence, that race alone is a factor. Leaving us with young males living in poor urban areas of concentrated poverty; with good reason to suppose that the lack of adequate housing, food, healthcare, education, hope, … of everything they need, and want, might be the most significant factor, the greater cause. These causes/things: inadequate housing, inadequate food, inadequate healthcare, inadequate education, little reason for hope, …, are things we as a society can do something about. Our doing so would be far better than going forward with the long failed more and more incarceration, imprisonment.

It appears that the most proximate cause of the most disproportionate percentage of young black males being incarcerated was their socioeconomic environs. Suppose that the reason for one group of citizens having a disproportionately high arrest rate was found to be because of their ‘culture’, their biology, their genetics, their upbringing, their psychology, …? Or, some combination of these things? What would an ‘Estimated number of arrests by offense and socioeconomic status’ look like? What would an ‘Estimated number of arrests by offense and culture’ look like? We have learned that there is a strong correlation between whether the child was wanted. What would an ‘Estimated number of arrests by offense and parenting’ look like? What other things do we not know? Asking the right questions and getting the correct answers is all important; is our best hope for finding solutions.

On Ghost Walls

Raffi Khatchadourian’s Ghost Walls {Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang ( As mass detentions and surveillance dominate the lives of China’s Uyghurs and Kazakhs, a woman struggles to free herself.)} is beyond Margaret Atwood dystopian. Ghost Walls gives a victim’s accounting of her own experiencing of China’s reaction to the cultural differences between the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other indigenous Turkic peoples, and China’s Han Chinese majority. A reaction that seems to be a crazy of mixture of the 13th and 21st Centuries with a f—ed up, post Mao, culture thrown in. For the world, the worst thing that could possibly happen is for this manic genocidal crackdown to succeed. When in doubt, when in China, double down. Can anybody make anyone do anything?

The idea of imposing one group’s set of values on another hasn’t worked very well so far. Seems it is rather a recipe for conflict and strife Looking ahead, this problem of living in multiracial, multicultural societies is an old one that is suddenly getting worse. One we really need to figure out.

It is said that Africa is home to more genotypes than the rest of the world combined. Our neighbor to the south is not a land of one people but is rather home to a thousand peoples. All around the world: Hong Kong, Tibet, Mongolia, and Xinjiang in China; the Kurds in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran; the Palestinians in Israel (or vice versa); the Rohingya in Myanmar; all across Africa; …, the world is trying to come to grips with differences. Too often, we see one group trying to make another second group behave as they, the first group, think they should.

Tax Evasion by the High Income

Washington Equitable: Tax evasion at the top of the U.S. income distribution and How To Fight it.

There is another version of the issue starting off with Senior fellow (Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute), Steven M. Rosenthal taking on the issue;

“If Congress Wants the IRS To Collect More Tax from The Rich, It Needs to Pass Better Laws.”

Or you can go to NBER version of the Washington Equitible Working Paper; Tax Evasion at the Top of the Income Distribution: Theory and Evidence, March 2021.

Your Choice.

The question?

“How much tax do high-income Americans evade? And what kinds of evasion tactics do they use?”

Random audits miss two of the more common methods used to minimize taxes. The audits underestimate tax evasion capturing little of the investor tax evasion by those using offshore accounts and pass-through businesses. Both methods present opportunities unlikely to be captured by the audits of income taxes and are significant to the top income brackets or the 1% of household taxpayers making greater that $500,000 annually (TPC).

In a July 2009 NYT article, it was determined Swiss bank UBS helped US citizens hide $20 billion. This is an old article and certainly later administrations did little to stifle tax avoidance.

4-Day Work Week

From Treehuggers; “Spain To Try Nationwide 4-Day Workweek”

A shorter workweek has been suggested s a means of improving work-life balance and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Freelance Writer, Olivia Rosane. The topics of a shorter work week and climate control was brought up by Sandwichman at Econospeak with the former being touted numerous times by Sandwichman.

Íñigo Errejón, a representative from the new leftwing party Más País, tweeted that the government had agreed to launch a pilot project to trial a four-day workweek.

“We have agreed with the Government to promote a pilot project to reduce working hours. European funds must also serve to reorient the economy towards improving health, caring for the environment and increasing productivity, ”

Keeping Fingers Crossed As US Commits To Removing Military From Afghanistan

Keeping Fingers Crossed As US Commits To Removing Military From Afghanistan

 Yes, President Biden has bitten the bullet to remove US troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack that triggered our initial entry into that nation for our longest war.  Of course, we shall not quite be fully out as not only will there still be some Marines guarding the embassy in Kabul, but probably covert CIA forces will continue to operate and drone bombing will probably continue and possibly even continue the expansion that has been going on for some time, with over 7000 bombs dropped on the nation by the US in 2019 according to Juan Cole.  But, hey, still looking good.

Needless to say many are upset and whining and worrying.  David Ignatius in WaPo worries that the Taliban will take Kabul after a bloody war and allow al Qaeda or ISIS to establish themselves there, saying that the worst thing would be for the US to have to go back in again after having left the way we went back into Iraq after ISIS grabbed lots of territories after we left there.  But Biden has been through these discussions and decisions and was long reported to want out from Afghanistan way back when Obama was increasing troop levels up to about 100,000, with them now down to just a few thousand.  Most of the withdrawal has already happened, and with Trump having promised a May 1 withdrawal an effort to go back on that with lots of conditions would probably trigger an upsurge of Taliban attacks on US troops, making a mess of things.

What the Future Holds

It was a warm October evening, back in 1957, when we heard the news and began looking anew toward the night skies. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had just launched a satellite that they called Sputnik into orbit; an event that changed the world forever. A whole new concept; actually, a couple, maybe more, new ones. Thenceforth everyone knew what a satellite was; well, most everyone. Took us awhile longer though to wrap our heads around the orbit bit.

That launch into orbit started a space race that pretty much defined the next 12 years. Actually, it was more of a technology race, a how to do and how to do it first race. How to get a rocket with a man onboard into orbit and on into outer space; how to do all sorts of things in a weightless, atmosphereless, environment? One small step for man, lots of giant leaps for technology. Care for some silicone grease on that silicon chip? How about a wafer with your eggs? All in all, not all that much was learned about space itself that we didn’t already know.